‘They help us as much as we help them’: Vets find solace in horses

A local horse rescue is healing our heroes with a special kind of therapy.
Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 6:45 PM EST
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A local horse rescue organization is healing our heroes with a special kind of help to deal with stress or trauma.

Over the past four years, on average we’ve lost more than 320 active-duty service members to suicide.

This year, through Sept. 30. that number was 243. Veterans whom we spoke to say, problems don’t disappear when you retire. In some cases, they can get worse.

But the Aiken equine horse rescue is working to change that.

We went to see how they’re healing with horses.

Joe Cruz, says, “I was in Desert Storm and did a few tours in Iraq.” He’s retired now, after 24 years of service.

Nancy Cruz, Joe’s wife, says, “When he came back from the last war, he was different.”

His wife says he’s a man of few words, until he’s at the equine rescue of Aiken, with thoroughbreds, retired from racing, like Tommy.

“You can talk to these animals. They understand what you say,” Cruz states.

Cruz is a part of the trust and release program with the rescue. The rescue’s goal is to let anyone dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or just everyday stress come and spend time with a horse.

“This is my place to come and just relax with these animals. It’s almost like an escape for you. An escape for me, yes,” Cruz says.

In 2006, the rescue opened its gates. Since then, rescue President and Executive Director Jim Rhodes says the program has taken off.

“The place was started to help horses. It quickly became apparent to me that we would help more people than we ever would horse,” Rhodes states.

If you’re a mother, father, active military, first responder, or veteran, Cruz says this is a program that saved him.

Cruz says, “They help us as much as we help them.”